Dos and don’ts when traveling with kids

When my husband said that he wanted us to accompany him on a business trip to Tampa, Florida, I had mixed emotions. On one hand I was excited to take the kids for a vacation. On the other hand, I was freaking out because I’d be traveling alone with them. My husband would be flying solo on a later flight.

We prepared as much as possible leading up to the flight. There were some bumps along the way. But ultimately, we were able to travel together as a family. Even though I’m able to breath a sigh of relief, a part of me would have done a few things differently. I came up with a list of dos and don’ts of traveling with kids, especially young ones.

1. Do plan early

It’s important to have all your ducks in a row. Whenever I plan a trip, I go over everything in my head from beginning to end. This time we made a few mistakes. Looking back, we could have done a better job figuring out the long term parking situation. As it turns out, we had to make a 15 minute walk from our spot to the terminal.

2. Do make a list

It’s easy to get side tracked when you have kids. It seems like there’s always something going on. Jotting things down saves me from leaving out the important stuff.

3. Do pack light

Bringing too much means having to carry too much. Rather than bringing the kids’ car seats, we decided to rent them. We also swapped the heavy stroller for the lighter umbrella stroller.

4. Do consider wearing your baby

When I traveled with Baby O to Atlanta last summer, he spent most of the time in a baby carrier. It was so easy and convenient.

5. Don’t wait until the minute to pack

Cutting it a little too close could mean forgetting things or missing your flight.

6. Don’t be afraid to speak up

There was a long line at the security checkpoint. In hindsight, I should have asked those who on later flights if we could jump ahead of them.

7. If you’re traveling with an infant, do have enough diapers in your carry on bag

I only had two on hand, which ended up being enough. In retrospect, I would have brought a couple more just in case.

8. Don’t forget hand sanitizer, plenty of snacks, and entertainment

Kids are always touching everything. Having wipes saved us a few bathroom trips. Princess had her iPad and books, which kept her busy. We also had plenty of healthy snacks.

9. Don’t forget to limit liquids and make the kids go potty before boarding the plane. 

We cut off Princess’s water supply two hours in advance.

10. Don’t forget to have fun!

Traveling can be stressful. It’s important to take some time and enjoy it because it goes by fast. Princess became restless while we waited to get on the aircraft, and constantly had to use the restroom. Racing to and from the bathroom made waiting easier.

There were some hiccups along the way. But overall, we had a pretty memorable travel day.

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6 thoughts on “Dos and don’ts when traveling with kids”

  1. And finally I’m happy to help out anyone I can. As I’ve said I do this ALL the time. I do want to add to the above.

    When I say add another 30 minutes for TSA holdups. I mean figure out how early you need to be for your flight, THEN add 30 minutes to that. So instead of two hours, add 2.5. You never know when you’ll hit traffic or there will be some sort of hold up along the way. And if you truly need to skip ahead of the line, ask a TSA agent and show them your ticket. Some times they’ll be sympathetic, other times they won’t. So it’s on you to get out the door early!

    Most airports have play spaces now. Like the ones at the mall. Find out before hand if yours does, and if it’s anywhere near your gate. There’s something to be said for having time to kill before your flight. It lets your kids move around and get that last bit of energy out after the car ride and before getting on the flight. Even if there isn’t one, take your kids for a walk. or find a mostly empty terminal and let them run a bit. I’m always happy to see kids playing (Supervised!!!!) and running around in the terminal, it means they’re likely to be tired on the flight!

    I am super rigid in my parenting, and flight are probably the only time I loosen restrictions. So my kid looks forward to flying as a treat. He knows I’m going to find him a new playground, he’ll eat out, probably get to play with the iPad, eat snacks, etc. Make it fun and you’re kids will be having such a good time they’ll forget to be bored and act out.

    My kid has been on more than 2 dozen flights, although it’s probably more than 30 now, I’ve lost count. And he’s had exactly one meltdown. His father thinks feeding him at every whine is a good idea. So being overstuffed (with an ear infection we didn’t know about) caused him to projectile vomit and screech in a way I’ve never heard before or since. So understand, most cases of kid/baby freak outs are on the parents. My husband no longer resorts to food over parenting and we haven’t had any more issues. Know your kid, and act accordingly. Don’t expect trouble “just because”, assume your children will behave and watch them rise to the occasion. My kid got fussy because I went to the bathroom, he always does this. If my husband had simply redirected, we wouldn’t have had an issue. Instead he learned a lesson I’d been trying to teach him for more than a year in the worse way possible.

    Anything that’s crucial, like a special bear or blanket should be kept in your “personal item”. As I’m sure everyone knows by now, everyone’s allowed one carry-on and one personal item. Don’t hog overhead space and make life harder for yourself. Pack a backpack with the stuff you know your kid can’t live without and put it under your seat. Sacrifice that foot space, and keep the lovey handy because I guarantee you your kid will “need” it the second you’re not allowed to get up to get it. Don’t be the parent who thinks they’re soooo smart by only using a carry-on. Cause I assure you, you’ll look really dumb riffling thorough you’re luggage in the middle of the aisle as you argue with your spouse about where that special book is with a kid screaming in your ear. I’ve seen this too many times and it wins you no friends.

    When you go through security it’s better to have nothing in your hands and pockets. Pat your kid down when you get to the line, be sure they didn’t find some change from the car to security and stash it for later. Explain to your kids everything has to stay safe in the bag but it’s coming. As soon as they’re at the gate they can have their lovey back, but they have to stay packed so they don’t get lost. Don’t let some jerk TSA agent screw with your kid, avoid the issue in the first place. And remember, sometimes there’s metal behind the eyes of stuffed animals. So you wouldn’t want your kid going through with one anyways, it could set off the machine.

    Also, go over your kid’s outfits. Make sure there’s as little metal as possible (especially if you have to carry them through, cause it adds up). Skip jeans, overalls, dresses with zippers, onesies, etc. Sweats and t-shirts are the best choice. Even if you and your girls usually wear dresses, skip them. I’ve had a swishing dress keep setting off the backscatter machine. After passing through the metal detector with no issues and going through the backscatter twice with them threatening a pat-down I finally just lifted my floor length dress to my thighs and asked exactly what they thought I was smuggling. They let me go after that. I wear tight fitting yoga pants (the only pair I own and I purchased them specifically for this reason), an undershirt, and a slim fitting t-shirt. It’s obvious I’m concealing nothing, and no fabric moves, so it’s unlikely to set off any machines. Dress your kids the same.

    I really just need to do a post on this on my personal blog. I’ve learned more than I ever wanted to know over the years and it’s just too much to put it all in the comments section. But these are just the most important things I’ve found.

  2. Agree to ignore #6. I would tell you no if I were a business traveler. How is your time more important than mine?

    Also, if you’re bringing anything outside normal compliance (baby food, formula, etc) go to the airlines’ or airport’s website and print off the rules they have there. Like Koolchicken, we’ve been stopped and they threaten to open everything. I had the rules printed for them and the problem stopped there. It’s their own policy.

    I would also prep your kids ahead of time. Let them know what to expect. My son was the little kid in the stroller who had his stuffie ripped from his hands as a TSA guy forced him out of his stroller while I dealt with an infant (I thought he would be “next” while TSA thought he should go while I took care of his brother). If I had told him about it, he might have been calmer.

  3. @Ava Marie, yes, you must pay if you want your child to have a seat. On most airlines infants under 2 fly free (sometimes there’s a fee if going international). But if you want them to have their own seat there’s usually a discounted rate. Call your airline to double check. Also, sometimes if you book through a discount site (like priceline) you’ll have to call anyways to add your child as a lap child. If the baby’s name doesn’t appear on your ticket TSA will send you all the way back to the ticket counter to have it added. Not fun.

    If you need to use the bathroom and you’re flying solo I suggest simply bringing the baby with you. There’s usually just enough room for them to stand wile you do what you have to do. Inconvenient if the child is sleeping, but it’s what I’d do. Unless the child is in a car seat and you trust your seat mate to watch them…

    You can bring milk through TSA if it’s for your infant. If I were you I’d bring a small unopened bottle of milk and put it in a plastic bag. BUT, be prepared to be hassled by TSA anyways. I have had shocking encounters with TSA and they always say the same stupid things “We can change the rules” “Policy is at our discretion” “Policy is subject to change without notice” and my personal favorite is “I like to do it my own way”. If I were you I’d simply bite the bullet and purchase a bottle of milk in the terminal. It’ll cost an arm and a leg, and you may not be able to get your preferred percentage/brand but you’ll save a LOT of hassle. Also, the plane may actually have some on board if you’re in a pinch. They have to have something for people’s coffee and tea right?

  4. I like this list, I think it’s pretty good for people who don’t travel very often or for those who don’t usually bring the kids. I do it all the time (I’m going to Vegas in a few days and when we get back I have a day or so before flying out to Boston). So I know quite a bit. And I actually disagree with some of these.

    If you go all the time, consider signing up for TSA pre check. We’ve had the opportunity to go through in the past and we’re very happy with it. So we signed up. It saves a lot of time. PLEASE, Do Not Listen, to “tip” #6. It is NOT okay to ask others of you can cut just because you have kids. That’s just entitled behavior, plain and simple. Show up at least a half hour earlier than you think you need to be there. Even at it’s worst I’ve never waited more than 30 minutes at TSA in any airport.

    Avoid super sugary drinks and anything with carbonation. But don’t cut your kids liquids back. Planes are really dry and keeping hydrated is important. And a dehydrated baby is a cranky baby. The one time I held back on giving my kid liquid (he was feeling ill) he ended up so dehydrated, much more than if he’d gone 6 hours with nothing at all to drink at home.

    Wearing you baby is a great idea, but I prefer to let mine ride on the carry on. Yes, you heard that right, he rides on the suitcase. A few times people thought he was a doll until we got close, but he knows to hang on. I just stand him on top and he holds onto the sides of the handle. We started at 9 months and he was about 12 months before he was really sturdy on there, by 13 he was an old pro. Only do this if your kid is strong, has good balance, and is smart enough to know not to let go. And use a bag with the swivel wheels you can push, we don’t use the ones you have to tip and pull. This trick has enabled me to check the stroller right at the ticket counter so it’s one less thing to deal with in the terminal!

    Pack treats. You can get tiny prepackaged versions of virtually everything these days. I just picked up a ten pack of single serve Nutella’s from Target. That with a some crackers is a good time. And although wasteful, having a zillion little packages to open is very entertaining to toddlers. It can take us more than an hour to work through one small tupperware sized box. Target also sells “To Go Picnic” boxes that are usually only a couple of dollars and have a real variety in there (they’re not too bad health wise and you can get Gluten Free ones). We do those as well.

    The usual things are also nice to have, they never hurt. I sometimes save crayon packs from restaurants and if you bring some paper (search Google images, “favorite character” coloring page and print off a few sheets) and stickers you’re good for a while there too. I also like the iPad for books, games, and movies.

    Since I’m away a lot I’ve learned to keep some stuff ready to go. I leave in a couple of days and I assure you, I’ve set aside nothing but my soaps. My toiletries case is ALWAYS filled. When I get home if something is low I refill or replace it right away. I try to pack certain outfits I always know will work and I know what I want to go with them (certain undies, scarves, etc.) it makes knowing if something is missing easier. Now is not the time to make a bold fashion choice, stick to reliable basics. But I don’t ever pack enough for as many days as I’ll be away. Save the luggage space, re-wear some outfits (it won’t hurt you I promise) or find laundry. And you can always hand wash a pair of socks and underwear while showering if you’re in a pinch.

    And I second the diaper tip. Bring one diaper for every hour you think you’ll be gone. It totally saved me the day AA let us sit in the terminal all day before letting us know at 7pm (once all the other airlines were done leaving for that location for the day) that our flight was canceled. We had to spend the night in a hotel and still do a six hour flight the next day. We did have to buy some emergency diapers (size 3 looked ridiculous on my preemie) but we only ran out at the last minute.

    And possibly the most important tip. Block out the ounces on baby food. You’re 100% allowed to bring what you need for your infant and TSA is not allowed to threaten or harass you. But I promise you they will. Every. Single. Time. We never had TSA issues till we had a kid. They’re threatened to confiscate his food, open ever container, or pat down one of us- all because we had some food that was over 4oz (you can go over the 3.4oz limit for baby food, so long as you’re bringing reasonable amounts). Now I cross off the size with a sharpie and they all look for the ounces and every last “agent” has been too stupid to realize we’ve simply crossed it off. We no longer get harassed about the factory sealed, TSA and agriculture approved food we’re legally allowed to bring.

  5. koolchicken, thanks for all the extra tips. I have traveled a lot as well, not with any kids yet but soon!!

    I agree, with or without kids, it’s NEVER okay to do #6. If you always follow the “arrive an hour before your flight is scheduled to leave” announcements that all airports suggest then you will be fine to make it to your flight on time. I tell myself over and over my 11:00 flight leaves at 10:00 so I get to the airport in plenty of time.

    I am so looking forward to learning as I go along as I travel with my LO. = D

  6. This is very helpful, as I will be traveling with my 18 month old alone for the first time in June. The only other question I have is what happens if I have to use the bathroom when I’m on the plane? does anyone know if they charge extra for the car seat? Also, can you bring milk on the plane? I’ve read that you can’t have liquids, but my little guy still drinks milk and they don’t serve it on the flight we are flying on. Thanks ahead for any suggestions.

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